Introduction

While we have had our hands on HDCP capable video cards for over a month, we haven't been able to really test our hardware with AACS protected content employing HDCP to secure the digital link between the system and the display. HD-DVD and Blu-Ray drives are both scarce and expensive, and a good variety of content is tough to find. Fortunately, NVIDIA and CyberLink are touring the world showing off what they can do when a PC with a PureVideo graphics card and an HD-DVD player get together with some Japanese imports for a little fun.

At this point, it is fair to say that no PC capable of playing back an HD-DVD or a BD at full resolution will be without a graphics card capable of accelerating some portion of the decode process. All of the graphics cards we have seen with real HDCP support (including the ROM and keys required) will feature NVIDIA's PureVideo HD or ATI's AVIVO. While this is, of course, a selling point from both NVIDIA and ATI's side, offloading processing from the CPU happens to be a necessity on lower end hardware. Our perspective on video decode acceleration for graphics cards that support HDCP has shifted to the point where we now feel CPU offloading is a requirement.

With DVDs, the debate over GPU acceleration had to do with lowering power consumption. At this point, with higher resolutions, processing requirements, and content protection, power isn't a priority yet. Our tests will show that PureVideo is more of a resource shift that draws the same amount of power rather than a feature that will enable mobility. It will still be some time before we see a notebook capable of playing an entire HD-DVD or BD movie at resolution on one charge.

All of the parts that made this demo work are still in beta, from the CyberLink player to the NVIDIA drivers used. While PureVideo HD is capable of accelerating high def video files, this new driver is the first that allows PureVideo HD to be used on HDCP protected content. These capabilities should be enabled in a ForceWare driver release sometime near the end of July or the beginning of August.

CyberLink should also start selling their HD-DVD player on store shelves in Q3. Curiously, player vendors seem to be releasing different versions of their software for HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. As both media formats are capable of holding data compressed with multiple (and overlapping) encoding schemes, there shouldn't be much difference in the players. Hopefully CyberLink, InterVideo, et al, will merge their player versions at some point in the future, but we aren't sure of the technical reasons that might have required this initial move.

We are taking a first look at HD-DVD playback on the PC with NVIDIA's PureVideo HD and CyberLink's player. The questions we want to answer are: what can early adopters of HD content expect in general, and what kind of performance does PureVideo HD offer? First, lets take a look at what exactly PureVideo HD does.

PureVideo HD and Video Playback
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  • Dismal - Tuesday, August 01, 2006 - link

    Potentially dumb question: Do all these graphics cards coming out now have support for all these 16:9 resolutions such as 1920x1080? Documentation for the cards that show what kind of resolutions they support seem scarce. I only worry because my 6800GT won’t touch 16:9 at all. I'm hoping times have changed. Reply
  • skycat - Thursday, July 27, 2006 - link

    I'm a little bit confused here. Do we have to have a HDCP video card in order to play HD-DVD or BD?
    I have a 7800gtx video card, and Dell UltraSharp 2407WFP monitor which supports HDCP. So if I get a HD-DVD rom drive, will I able to play HD-DVD in full resolution via DVI?
    Reply
  • Renoir - Friday, July 28, 2006 - link

    Based on Derek's answer to my similar question above the answer appears to be no. The graphics card needs to support hdcp although if I understand him correctly you will be able to hook up the monitor via vga and get full resolution. Hope that helps. Reply
  • Clauzii - Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - link

    In what GPU series did nVidia implement the hardware for PureVideo? - Since I think it took a LONG time from then till now, and still drivers are BETA????? I don't get it.... Reply
  • DerekWilson - Wednesday, July 26, 2006 - link

    Purevideo works fine and is not beta in current drivers.

    Purevideo HD, which enables playback of HDCP protected content stored on HD-DVD or Blu-ray disks, is currently in beta.

    Since HD-DVD drives and Blu-ray drives have only recently started hitting the market, it isn't suprising that this feature of Purevideo HD is still in development. But Purevideo itself has been production quality for quite some time now. I know it's been at least as long as the 7 series parts have been out, but I think it was available at some point before that. I'd have to go back and check to make sure though.

    Thanks,
    Derek Wilson
    Reply
  • Clauzii - Wednesday, July 26, 2006 - link

    Thanks :) Reply
  • phusg - Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - link

    I didn't see any mention of load on the dual core Pentium, specifically the 'second' core. Is this being used at all? Seems to me that utilizing the second core would be much more advantageous than the 20% decrease from utilizing the GPU. Reply
  • DerekWilson - Wednesday, July 26, 2006 - link

    When we refer to 100% processor usage on a dual core system, we mean 100% of both cores.

    In other words, if one core went unused, we would see usage of about 50%.

    In every case, load was spread fairly evenly across both cores.

    Taking that a step further to put it all together -- smooth HD-DVD playback of H.264 content requires at least 2x 3.0GHz Netburst cores and Purevideo HD on a GPU running at 450MHz or more. Alternately, more powerful CPU(s) could make up for the need of a GPU, but until we collect more data, we don't know where the crossover point is.
    Reply
  • Renoir - Wednesday, July 26, 2006 - link

    I'm about to build a friend a budget pc based on the geforce 6150/430 chipset which runs at 475mhz and I would find it funny if it turns out to offer faster h.264 acceleration than the 7800GTX which another friend has which runs at 430mhz. Was thinking though, although Nvidia say that the performance of the video processor is dependent on gpu clock speed is there any difference between the processor on the 6XXX series as opposed to the 7XXX series?

    Given that I don't game on my pc but am interested in the video performance of gpus I must say I prefer the approach Nvidia is taking more than ATI's because I don't like the idea of having to buy a high end gpu just to get good hardware acceleration of video. Having said that I'm interested to see what effect the move to unified shaders has on avivo's video acceleration because I believe ATI's video acceleration is dependent on the number of pixel pipelines.
    Reply
  • Renoir - Wednesday, July 26, 2006 - link

    I guess the easiest thing would be to make sure you have a cpu that can decode the highest bit rate h.264 video on the market and consider hardware acceleration a bonus. I am therefore really looking forward to your future articles which should establish how fast a cpu you need in order to not be dependent on the gpu. Reply

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